Home is where the personal and the political meet.
This is not my regularly scheduled post. I promise you the regular real estate content is coming shortly. This has just been weighing on me and I wanted to get it out first.
Early this week, I received an email from a subscriber telling me that they were considering unsubscribing after reading my post-election issue on Georgia because they prefer “non-political information.” I spent the day drafting a response and debated sending it.
The next morning there was an attempted coup on the US Capitol.
I realized that I can’t say nothing, but I also shouldn’t subject one person to the message or the brunt of my feelings.
From my email drafts:
On some level you’re right, I write this as an escape for myself and many other people read it for escapism. To write about the election betrays that. But sometimes, there’s just no pretending that what is happening in the world isn’t happening, nor should you.
Real estate is inherently political. In fact, it’s probably the most political thing in the world. Few things, if any, have shaped our world quite like the quest for land and property ownership, especially in America. From colonization and slavery to Manifest Destiny, the Great Migration, the creation of the American Dream and the barring of some groups of people from participating in it (redlining), White Flight, and the breakdown of the American Dream for those who ever thought it was promised to them: what we see in contemporary American politics in inextricably tied to land/property ownership and race. Hell, Donald Trump was elected in part because of his reputation as a real estate mogul. Real estate is power.
On a smaller scale, the mechanics behind zoning, housing prices, and the things that make an area “desirable” like nice public schools and low crime rates are all political. You make your vote with your money, your choice of neighborhood and home, and your choice of representatives.
I wish real estate wasn’t deeply political. I wish that we didn’t need the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act. I wish that where we lived was a simple reflection of what our aesthetic tastes are (although there is still a lot of work to do around the class and race politics of taste) and the kind of lifestyle we want to lead. But until that day comes, I feel a responsibility to continue learning about the history and politics of real estate and urban planning, grow as a contributor and advocate in my neighborhood, and share what I learn with others. I hope you do the same.
With all of this being said, I’m not entirely sure where to go from here. I’m not an expert by any means and I’m still processing my grief and anger.
For now, I’ll leave you with a list of book recommendations (some I’ve read, some were recommended by friends) if you’re interested in learning more about race and the politics of real estate.
Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America by Beryl Satter
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
The New Urban Crisis: How Our Cities Are Increasing Inequality, Deepening Segregation, and Failing the Middle Class-and What We Can Do About It by Richard Florida
How to Kill a City: Gentrification, Inequality, and the Fight for the Neighborhood by Peter Moskowitz
Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America by Conor Dougherty
Capital City: Gentrification and the Real Estate State by Samuel Stein
Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck
Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
I’d love to hear your recommendations, or if there are any other topics you’d love to learn about when it comes to architecture, urban planning, or real estate.
I’ll be back to the regularly scheduled content shortly.
You're right– everything is political. The people who are able to request that "politics" be separated from *insert another subject here* are the ones with enough privilege and access to do so in their lives (cough hwhite people cough) because they don't feel or experience the intersectionality the way the rest of us do. Thank you for your acknowledgement and honesty. We need more of that... as well as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing newsletters.
Anything Thomas Sugrue is super illuminating: The Origins of the Urban Crisis (1996) and his recent Neoliberal Cities: The Remaking of Postwar Urban America (2020). And for how liberal policy supported (enabled?) racist institutions, especially the housing and mortgage industries: How Race Survived US History by Roediger.